What’s up with everyone?

Ella Rhodes reports on a new collaboration between psychologists and Aardman Animation.

Researchers in mental health have teamed up with Aardman Animations to launch a new campaign aimed at supporting the wellbeing of 17- to 24-year-olds. The What’s Up With Everyone? campaign features a series of short animations touching on five broad issues which affect young people – perfectionism, loneliness, social media, competitiveness and independence.

To create the films, with funding from the Arts and Humanities Research Council, Aardman worked alongside principal investigator Paul Crawford, Director of the Centre for Social Futures at the Institute of Mental Health (University of Nottingham), and teams from Loughborough University, the London School of Economics and Political Science, with support from the Mental Health Foundation and the mental health charity Happy Space. The films, directed by Daniel Binns at Aardman, feature animated characters’ internal struggles and show how perspectives can be shifted slightly to improve wellbeing before issues begin impacting mental health.

Crawford said in a statement that the research behind, within and about the project was fundamental to the successful creation of the films to support young people’s mental health. ‘With Covid-19 there will be no red carpet but there is a deep pride that all those involved in this project have been part of a bit of magic amidst the difficult times we are all facing. Anyone who has worked with Aardman or seen their work will know that their reach to the audience is profound, so the potential impact trajectory for the project is jaw-dropping.’

The themes for each of the videos were decided on after extensive focus groups with young people and they are featured on whatsupwitheveryone.com alongside resources for further support including helplines and charities. Each one draws on evidence-based mental health research and their impact will also be evaluated by teams of researchers.

Social Psychologist Dr Tom Curan (LSE) was co-investigator on the three-year-long project. An expert in the area of perfectionism, Curran said that working on the project had given him a deeper understanding of the struggles which young people face.

‘As someone who researches and writes about these issues academically we often look at societal expectation, the uncertainty in the economy and precarity, and we assume young people think about those things, but they don’t. They’re more thinking about the direct social comparisons that they engage with on a day to day basis – this might be social comparison on social media, pressure from parents or social comparison at school.’

Curran said that social media, in particular, had changed the landscape for young people. ‘These days young people are not just consumers, they’re products, and they feel they have to sell themselves through social media – that has been a complete change in the way I thought about social pressures… with social media these pressures are much more severe and I think it’s something that we, as a society, really need to be aware of.

‘Young people do get a bad rap because they seem to have all these things – phones and technology and material items – that older generations didn’t have. But what we don’t recognise is that, within that, comes additional pressure to project this idealised image, this perfect, polished profile and at the same time they have none of the securities that older generations had, like a stable job or income.’

Curran said it had been a great experience to work on a project that closely involved young people as well as those from a number of different academic and creative disciplines. He will also be part of the team evaluating the impact of the videos – specifically exploring whether the videos increase young people’s willingness to seek support or their willingness to support others. 

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